Zimbabwe Cabinet principles on ZMC Act worrisome: SAEF

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The Southern African Editors Forum (SAEF) has noted with serious concern, the Zimbabwe Cabinet principles on the amendment of the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) Act and the proposed Media Practitioners Bill that are meant to effect media co-regulation and professionalise the media in Zimbabwe.

SAEF is of the view that the cabinet principles, if applied and enacted into law as announced, will further entrench statutory regulation of the media in Zimbabwe and smuggle back into law clauses from the repealed Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

The media body implores the Zimbabwe government to reconsider the proposed position to enhance press freedoms in the country and to ensure that the agreed co-regulation principle by the government and the media sector is properly implemented.

Under the recently announced cabinet principles, government indicated that it would set up a statutory Media Council of Zimbabwe to regulate media conduct.

The regional editors’ group argues that cabinet principles are in direct contrast to the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) and the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef) position on co-regulation captured through a MAZ statement released on 24 April 2024 and a later statement released by the Alliance in response to the cabinet principles.

“SAEF is in support of the view that the existing complaints handling mechanism and Code of Conduct are effective and industry-led and should therefore form the basis for any other structure that could emerge as a result of this law-making process. This is the same position of MAZ, which reaffirms in its position paper its commitment to self-regulation as the most democratic regulatory framework but subscribes to the consensus position of co-regulation reached between government and media stakeholders.

“SAEF supports the MAZ position on co-regulation in full and warns that proceeding with the cabinet principles in their current state will be against the co-regulation principles agreed to between the government and the media sector. Setting up of the statutory council will be bringing through the back door, re-packaging and resurrecting of the abhorred AIPPA, repealed by the Zimbabwean government when the Second Republic came into office, and this will be against the government’s media reform principles,” said Joseph Ailonga, the Secretary-General of SAEF in a statement released today.

He added that a similarly suggested Zimbabwe Media Council was set up under AIPPA on 13 September 2012 and was roundly condemned and rejected by the media sector and ultimately it never saw the light of day. In that regard, SAEF said it would be a tragedy for the government to seek to revive AIPPA by resuscitating this ghost from the previous law.

SAEF urges the Zimbabwe government to undertake a broad consultative process that will involve media stakeholders, media civil society organizations, and media regulatory bodies to reach a common position on the democratic implementation of co-regulation.

A holistic and inclusive model anchored on co-regulation – which means an industry-led regulatory system supported by the government, especially on legislative arrangements, and other stakeholders – is the best approach to ensure solid media freedom, ethical journalism, and sustainability.

“For the current process to yield the desired results, there is a need for clarity of concept, thought, and implementation of the co-regulation model. SAEF agrees with Zinef’s position that the government should revisit the process to help regulate the media in a progressive – and not stifling – way as this may be the case with the current cabinet proposals which do not represent the letter and spirit of the wide consultations by stakeholders. As SAEF we are prepared to walk the media freedoms journey with the Zimbabwe government and media practitioners in Zimbabwe,” Ailonga said.